Saturday, 29 June 2013

Judgement Day. 30.06.2013

As a society, we seem to be trying to achieve some sort of moral neutrality. This is very much a new thing. In the past, holding on to a clear sense of right and wrong, often absorbed directly from a religious or political source, was considered the way to go. Now, by and large, we worship open-mindedness and tolerance. “Judgemental” has become an insult.

Now, I love me some open-mindedness and tolerance. In fact, being a person whose proclivities do not match those of the majority [1], I need the two above qualities to live a relatively peaceful life. I generally speaking try to live and let live. I try to minimise the impact I have on the world around me in general and other people in particular, and to ensure that what impact I do have is positive. “Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone was nice”[2] is a lovely concept that I have tried to cherish and embrace. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live in a world where everyone strives to do their best for themselves and those around them? Where we all stood together, supporting each other, while we try to overcome the traumas of our past, so that we can all live a better future? Where we are not judged for our mistakes, but helped instead to progress past them?A world like that would be wonderful. Unfortunately, this world just isn’t like that.

Take the Goethe quote “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being.” I used to hold it close to my heart and try to live by it. It might be old age or having smacked my head against too many sharp corners, but I find myself increasingly drawn towards a rather different mantra: “Your Honour, he needed killin’”. I first heard it from an American associate and it struck a chord. The idea is that someone has caused such damage and havoc that his unnatural demise is considered a bonus for the people around him and/or the general community. Dispatching him is, therefore, justified. Apparently in some parts of the USA this can be used as a legal defence. I find it increasingly hard to fault it, as a concept if not as a practice.

You see, the problem is that I know a lot of different people. I know people who are nice, and people who try to be nice even though it just doesn’t come natural. I know people who are strong and true and upright, and people who just can’t keep their word against the buffeting of the world. I know all sorts of people, living all sorts of lives. Amongst them are people who are the living embodiments of chaos and pain, people who continually wreak havoc in other people’s lives.

Please note that I am not making a judgement call here. I am not saying that they are “evil”, merely that their actions are unfailingly a source of agony to others. I am also not saying that they are not capable of committing “good” deeds, merely that their past performance has consisted of a much greater proportion of deeds which had a negative impact on those around them. These people are, in a variety of ways, just bad news.

When they walk into your life you’ve got a problem, because they proceed to wreck it. Now, we could spend an endless number of hours analysing why this is the case. Is it a result of nature or nurture? Is it accidental or deliberate? Is it conscious or subconscious? Is there a history of childhood trauma? Did you somehow summon them into your life, and if so why? The list of questions goes on and on. We can try and work out what their problem is. We can also try and work out whether their problem is a reflection of a problem you have. On the surface, it seems a perfectly reasonable course of action: you are trying to work out what the root of the problem is, so you can find a solution. If you look at it from another point of view, however, this is a really stupid way to go about things. The bottom line is that, metaphorically, you have a tack in your ass[3]. It hurts and is only gonna get worse. So how about we take the tack OUT first, and do the thinking later?

People, of course, are not objects. They have reasons and motivations for their actions. Much as those abstract concepts have a bearing on a situation, though, should they stop us taking action? If an animal is biting someone's throat out, does it matter if it's doing so out of fear, hunger, pain or sheer natural predatory cruelty? Surely we stop the mauling first, and work out what the issue is afterwards.

This, when applied to people in this society, is more easily said than done. We are indoctrinated to be understanding, compassionate and considerate. Even when we are not personally religious, we are still affected by the cultural values of “turning the other cheek”, “judge not lest ye be judged” and “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. Well, not wishing to be funny, but maybe we ought to take a closer look at the figure who popularised those tenets. Jesus, whether you wish to see him as an itinerant rabbi or the Son of God, was a great public speaker full of revolutionary ideas. Personally I really admire the guy, but I can’t forget the fact that he came to a rather sticky end. As a lifestyle advisor, his personal example should possibly ring a few alarm bells.

Still, we are good people, aren’t we? And good people show tolerance, understanding, forbearance and forgiveness. So we persevere, tack firmly in the ass, until things get so bad that we are forced to take action or someone does it for us, we get destroyed, or the tack falls off of its own accord, ready to be picked up by another unwary passer-by. How does this suck? Let me count the ways:

  1. We have let a person hurt another person. The fact that the “another person” is us shouldn’t matter a fig unless we are masochists. If we value human life, we should value and protect our own as much as anyone else’s.
  2. There have been no consequences or repercussions on the person who hurt us. Please note, I am not saying anything about revenge – that’s a different thing altogether, which “doesn't fix anything and it gets your soul all sticky”[4]. People, however, being mammal, often learn by trial and error. You do something and you decided whether to do it again based on the consequences. If there are no negative consequences to an act, or worse if you profit by it, you’ll just carry on with it.
  3. We are facilitating someone else getting hurt. We have done nothing to stop or discourage the perpetrators, so they will often go on to do it again. Unless we alert other potential victims, we are partly responsible for the problem persisting.

This approach is “nice”, but unfortunately only to one person, and that’s the person misbehaving. Can someone kindly explain to me how, when and why being “bad” became something that entitles you to preferential treatment? Because that’s what’s going on here. We are protecting the threats and leaving the threatened undefended.

No, I’m not advocating the death penalty. I’m also not advocating vigilante squads, public castrations for rapists or stoning people. I do not trust my powers of judgement enough to want to make that sort of call. The thing is, though, that I have no evidence whatsoever that Karma works. That kinda sucks, because, like any child raised on Disney, I like to believe that there are "happily ever afters" for the goodies and a choice of retribution or redemption for the baddies. It seems that we might have been left alone in the playground that is universe, having to make and enforce our own rules, because no supervisor is gonna rush in and help us if someone gives us a boo-boo.

If we want to make the world a better place, maybe we need to combine tolerance with consequences – negative consequences for negative actions, positive consequences for positive ones. Maybe Karma isn’t a mystical force outside of us. Maybe we are meant to be part of it, acting as its instruments, being “the change we wish to see in the world”. Maybe I’ve lost it, and I’m turning into a bigot like my grandmother. Who the fuck am I to decide what’s good or bad? At the same time, though, if I don’t make a judgement call, who is going to make it for me? There are no absolutes I can lean against. I don’t know. What I do know is that I routinely see good people facilitate bad people in following lifestyles which thrive on everyday atrocities. That seems kinda fucked up, frankly.

[1] No, I’m not a sexual deviant. I’m an incredibly tiny person of the female persuasion who wants to drive vans, use chainsaws, travel unaccompanied and do all sorts of things that you “just don’t do”. It’s really rather unexciting, but it seems to upset society’s apple cart, and there are repercussions.

[2] My favourite Hogswatch song, sung to the tune of "It's a Small World":If we all were friendly
I'm sure you would agree
That the world would be a better place
For you and for me
And if everyone was kind
I'm sure no-one would mind
So let's all be nice

Wouldn't it be nice if everyone was nice?Wouldn't it be nice if everyone was nice?
Wouldn't it be nice if everyone was nice?
Let's all be nice.
Terry Pratchett. You gotta love it.

[3] I nicked this off another US friend. UK English speakers – this be the equivalent of “a drawing pin in the bottom”. Unfortunately it just doesn’t sound as good. Julie Goin – I’d credit you if only you’d written the book, but we’re all still waiting.

[4] Spider Robinson, “Callahan's Lady”.

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